2019 CIK League Previews: WAC

Members of the Garden City Buffaloes and Great Bend Panthers shake hands following the game. The Great Bend Panthers defeated the Garden City Buffaloes 49 to 6 at Memorial Stadium in Great Bend, Kansas on October 19, 2018. (Photo: Joey Bahr, www.joeybahr.com)
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Great Bend looking to hang on to WAC title in 2019

Last fall the Western Athletic Conference’s final hopes of a football title faded away on a bitterly cold November night in Maize. Great Bend, playing in the Class 5A quarterfinals, snapped the ball on a potential game-tying play deep in Eagle territory. Officials ruled the snap came after the final horn and the WAC season officially came to a close.
But the biggest western schools in the state have a rich tradition of winning. Big changes are coming in Classes 6A and 5A, and that leaves the field wide open for the five WAC schools.

GREAT BEND
Panther coach Erin Beck has made the most of his first three seasons in Great Bend with a 23-9 record. His Panthers finished at 8-3 last year with losses to 5A runner up Wichita Northwest, Bishop Carroll, and Maize. Great Bend lost those three games by a total of 28 points against teams that combined for a 30-6 record.
The Panther offense largely returns minus two-year quarterback Koy Brack, who passed for 2,203 yards and rushed for 283 more a year ago. Beck will also have to replace most of his offensive line.
“Our offensive line was hit hard by graduation last year, but we've had a lot of guys commit and step up this summer that we are very excited about this fall,” Beck said.
“Any time you have to replace a senior class like last year’s group and the leadership qualities they possessed, it's a tall task. That is something we've been working with this group all summer long is trying to find the guys who are going to lead. This 2020 senior class is very talented and our goals will be the same we set out with last season. It all starts with winning week one versus Andover, defending our WAC title and then to set ourselves up in the playoffs to compete for a state title.”
Senior Dalton Miller was one of the team’s workhorses in 2018, rushing for 514 yards and catching 26 passes for 334 yards. This year he moves into the quarterback spot.
“He's taken several snaps from that spot over the years, but this will obviously be the first season he will be called upon to do it full time,” Beck said. “He is a kid that is very talented with the ball in his hands so doing it every snap will put a lot of pressure on defenses.”
Miller will have lots of returning talent around him. Senior Alex Schremmer was one of the top receivers in Kansas last year with 1,178 yards and 15 touchdowns on 60 receptions. He went for at least 100 yards in seven of the 11 games and topped out with 205 yards in a 56-34 shootout loss against Northwest. Senior Peyton Duvall caught 28 balls for 410 yards last fall. Out of the back field, Beck returns senior Gage Fritz, who rushed for 1,184 yards on 180 attempts in 2018.
The Panthers were solid on defense last year, holding eight their 11 opponents to 18 points or fewer. Five of those opponents managed just one touchdown. Beck has six returning starters back on that side of the ball.
Miller finished second on the defense last year with 94 tackles. Three of the team’s top-four tackles graduated, leaving Miller, senior Alex Olivas and senior Alan Miramontes to lead the pack in 2019.

DODGE CITY
The Red Demons finished 2018 at 6-4 as the only other WAC team with a winning record last season. Long-time coach Dave Foster rebounded from a 3-6 2017 season to finish at 6-4 after a loss to unbeaten Derby in the Class 6A playoffs.
The Red Demons featured a balanced offensive attack in 2018 and return one of the league’s top players in senior Beau Foster under center. Last year Foster passed for 997 yards and rushed for another 601 yards and nine scores. He may need to take over some of the carries for Ja’iel Johnson who graduated after leading the team with 918 rushing yards in 2018.
Foster will have back his three favorite targets at wideout. Four Demons finished the season with at least 200-yards receiving, led by senior John Johnson with 381 yards on 35 catches. Senior De’Jon Delgado caught 26 balls for 289 yards, and junior Matt Friess finished with 265 yards on 14 receptions.
Coach Foster will be looking to improve last year’s defense that allowed 27 points a game. The Demons lost a pair of All-WAC first team linemen in Marcos Fisher and Evan Darville. Senior Jashon Taylor led the team with 95 tackles last season out of the linebacker position. Senior Tommy Bermudez added 71 tackles, including nearly half of the team’s total sacks with six.

HAYS
Tony Crough returns for a second season at Hays after a 3-6 finish in 2018. Crough’s job likely gets more difficult in 2019 with the loss of quarterback Palmer Hutchison at quarterback. Hutchison will play baseball in college after throwing for 1,635 yards and rushing for 675 yards last year as a senior.
Hutchison and senior Hayden Brown were both first-team All-WAC selections last year. Brown rushed for 157 yards and five touchdowns in a win against Wichita South last year. He rushed for 125 yards and two scores in last year’s opening loss to Junction City.

GARDEN CITY
The Buffs were riding high after an 8-3 2017 season that included a WAC championship. That ended last fall as Garden City fell to 2-7 overall with wins against conference foes Hays and Liberal. Expectations will be higher this season with a handful of returning players.
Leading the returners will be senior quarterback Carlos Acosta. Last season Acosta threw for better than 1,100 yards and rushed for more than 400 yards as the team’s second-leading runner. Acosta was even better on defense as a first-team All-WAC selection defensive back.
Acosta is joined up front by senior Refujio Chariez, another first-team selection, on the offensive line. Junior Garrick Wells was a second-team all-league player up front. The Buffs will down last year’s leading rusher in Reece Morss, and last year’s top-two receivers in Kaleb Lapointe and Tye Davis.
Defensively, Coach Brian Hill must replace a pair of all-league linebackers in Morss and Lapointe. In all, Garden City’s top-three tacklers from a year ago have graduated. Junior Christian Reyes was fourth on the team in 2018 with 41 tackles.

LIBERAL
Head coach Jason Dunlap and quarterback Syris Dunlap had big years in 2017. The Redskins finished 6-3 that season and the sophomore quarterback was the league’s leading passer and rusher. The proverbial wheel fell off in 2018 as Liberal enters the season riding an eight-game skid following a 41-0 win over Guymon (Okla.) in last year’s season opener.
Syris Dunlap, a 3-sport star, returns as one of the top athletes in the WAC this season. Dunlap will have a variety of talented targets that include All-WAC, second-team selections Lee Hatcher, Hunter Hatcher, and Braxton Hyde.
Liberal will look to make strides on defense in 2019. After that shutout against Guymon to open the season, the ‘Skins allowed at least 20 points in six of their final eight games. Four of the final five opponents scored at least 31 points. Gone is defensive leader Jose Aguilera, a second-team all-league pick at linebacker last fall.